Sofa-surfing, selfie-obsession and online sex work. These are the provocative themes that underpin Nicôle Lecky’s much-hyped, debut miniseries, Mood.
In a star-making role, Lecky plays Sasha, a broke 20-something wannabe singer, sofa-surfing her way into a world of selfie-obsessed influencer culture and online sex work. With a suitcase in one hand, she scrolls through contacts in search of a place to sleep. Behind every carefully curated social media façade is a reality faced by thousands of young people.
Mood has as much grit as gloss, covering influencer culture, hidden homelessness, the thin line between empowerment and exploitation. And, remarkably, it all comes from the mind of the 31-year-old actor, writer, and singer.
“It’s that person who’s always at the party and they never go home,” Lecky tells The Big Issue about central character Sasha. “These are people that wouldn’t perceive themselves as homeless. I really wanted to draw attention to it. I haven’t personally sofa-surfed but I have a strong connection [to it], I moved a lot.”
Crisis reports that 62 percent of single homeless people are hidden and may not show up in official statistics. “Their stories are important to depict on TV,” Lecky says.
“Sasha’s got this naive view, thinking, ‘I’m a young woman, of course somebody is going to help me. They’re not going to let me sleep on the street’. Well, no, that’s not the reality of this situation.”
At its core, Mood depicts the conflict between the idealistic dreams of becoming a singer and the easy cash from online sex work, avoiding any clear conclusions. The viewer instead is left with an icky recognition and an itching discomfort.
“She doesn’t have many options available to her,” Lecky explains, “she’s got to make decisions, and a lot of them are based on finance. If she were offered a record deal, she’d do that, wouldn’t she? She wouldn’t be a sex worker. That’s not to say, you shouldn’t be a sex worker, but it does present the idea of choice.”
During her research Lecky met female sex workers and was stunned by how often their identity is reduced to their actions in the eyes of wider society.
“We can be harsh with people who make mistakes,” she says.”Sometimes it’s justified but at other times, I think, gosh, she’s like a girl in her 20s, figuring it out. But now she’s tarnished with this brush of [being] a sex worker, there’s all this shame attached.
As a young, starry-eyed east London girl, Lecky was captivated with TV and film. It was Sofia Coppola’s film The Virgin Suicides that made her want to be a creative too. “I watched that in my late teens and I was in awe that a woman had created it.”
At drama school she began writing “a bit secretly” before coming across an opportunity to submit her own play at The Yard Theatre in Hackney Wick. The play she entered, Superhoe, became a one-woman show performed by Lecky at the Royal Court Theatre in early 2019.
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“I wrote the full play, and did it as a reading, it got picked up for theatre, then got a commission for TV, a lot was riding on this commission,” she says.
With admirable optimism, Lecky turned down other promising opportunities in the hope that the TV series would become real. “I was having this argument in my head, going ‘you stupid lady, you’re turning down these things. You don’t even know if this is actually going to pan out!’ Fortunately, it did!”
As well as Coppola, Lecky has been inspired by the likes of Jane Campion and Donald Glover, specifically Glover’s series, Atlanta. “He’s making entertaining TV, but at the same time, he’s also sharing a slice of life,” she says. The influence of Atlanta carries throughout Mood, as it blends musical fantasy with the grimy reality of everyday life.
But if the characters and world of the show stem from the mind of Lecky, where does Sasha begin and she end?
“It’s set in east London and Sasha has this aspiration to be a singer and rapper, but doesn’t have a way in, and that’s similar to me, in terms of being from east London, being really ambitious and wanting to go into the arts.”
But barriers — social, financial, societal — still exist for young women of colour trying to enter the arts industry. The lack of contacts, opportunities and experience that Sasha struggles through are real for Lecky.
“You have to very much figure it out yourself,” she says. “I understand the desperation to make money… I’ve had a lot of moments where I’ve been like fuck, if I don’t book this job, I don’t have a bank of mum and dad to support me.”
Fundamentally this experience has infused a tender empathy into the miniseries. But with a new show hours away from premiering, creator and star, Nicôle Lecky now stands in a very different position.
Amongst the breadcrumbs of provocative themes and unanswered questions, Nicôle aims to extract compassion from the audience, “to have a little less judgement over some of the decisions the characters are making.”
She adds: “Ultimately I want people to watch it with a very free mind, this is what I feel like is happening in the world right now.”
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